JACKSON • The Mississippi House on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that dozens of historians and archivists worried would inject political influence into the state Department of Archives and History.
Senate Bill 2727 failed a House vote 19-103, which likely spells its death this session. The legislation would have turned the historical agency’s nine-member board of trustees into a panel appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor rather than one that selects its own members, as has been the case since 1902. New members picked by the board must be confirmed by the Senate.
The bill cleared the Senate on a party-line vote last month. Senate Republicans, including the bill’s author, said the change would create more accountability at the agency and its board, and claimed it was highly unusual in Mississippi for a board to choose its own replacements.
But the proposal quickly garnered opposition. Forty-six Mississippi historians signed a letter urging state lawmakers to reject the legislation – a letter recently distributed to House members – and a group of state archivists also strongly opposed it. They expressed several concerns about the potential for political interference at MDAH, which runs the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson, oversees state historical archives and conducts educational programs.
“It needs a lot of work, and we want to get with the Senate down there and work with them on it,” Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, who leads the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, told his colleagues Tuesday. “I make a pledge to you it won’t (pass both chambers) unless you know everything about it.”
But several representatives questioned whether modifications could make the legislation any more palatable.
“Would you agree with me that the Department of Archives and History is an institution that, operating independently, has been one of our star institutions, that has worked well for the state of Mississippi?” asked Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez.
Boyd agreed with his colleague.
“Has there been any notice of a problem from the Department of Archives and History?” asked Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville. “Has there been any formal complaints or anything?”
No, Boyd said, there had not.
“When your mother says, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ would you not agree that this seems to be a cliche that needs to be in place right now (with this agency)?”
Boyd said he agreed he didn’t see any need for changes – though added “there’s always room for improvement.”
He said maybe there were a couple minor tweaks to the MDAH board that the House and Senate could agree to in coming days.
But Boyd appeared to see where things were headed: He grinned as the vote to overwhelmingly reject the Senate bill displayed on an electronic board behind him.
Several representatives cheered.